In October 1953 a Cuban newspaper conducted an interview with Father Hilario Chaurrondo. At the time he was a blunt, outspoken, down to earth and very popular priest known throughout the island for his prison advocacy and other work that kept him close to the grittier aspects of life in pre-Castro Cuba.
I read this eye-opening snippet of the article in the book Christine Jorgenson-A Personal Autobiography. This particular chapter in the book covers Christine's visit to Havana to perform at the Tropicana. Here's what Father Chaurrondo had to say about Christine.
"I am familiar with the Cristina Jorgenson case right from its very beginnings. I have followed it in the press and have read her memoirs. Very interesting-very. These are the things which leave us bewildered by the progress of the days we live in.
A doubt came into our mind. Should we ask him or not? Well, when all is considered, Father Chaurrondo is considered a "man of the world".
"Father, you are aware that Cristina is legally a woman with all the rights and attributes inherent in such a social condition. Would you be disposed to give your blessing to Cristina marry a man in church?"
Father Chaurrondo doesn't flinch and he replies as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
"If her application for a Catholic ceremony carries with it all the presiquites and prior dispensations of the Archbishop, I would say yes."
"Would Cristina's case involve special dispensations?"
"No. Only the normal procedure. Just as for any other woman. As far as we are concerned, Cristina is a woman since she has been so designated by the United States, where they know what they are doing."
"And the Archbishop's dispensation?"
"Cristina is an alien resident, and in such cases certain requirements have to be met for reasons of diocese and parish. I repeat, Cristina's case calls for no special treatment. I can marry Cristina Jorgenson in the church once the usual and current regulations have been complied with. The procedure will be no different with her than with any other woman."
Father Chaurrondo is clear, frank, simple and definite. Cristina Jorgenson can be married by the Church.
"Look my son, we priests nowadays have seriously to study the realities of life. We're not like the priests of sixty years ago, or as I was when I first began."
Chaurrondo's voice softened at memory of those first years of his priesthood.
"The secret of confession is inviolable, otherwise I would tell you stories of Cristinas and Cristinos of every color under the sun. At the beginning my soul grieved and sorrowed at the horror and shame. Now it's different. I read Maranon (Gregorio Maranon, a famous Spanish endocrinologist) and even dig football. Times change, but the eternal truths are immutable."
...we take our leave of Father Hilario Chaurrondo who remains behind in the yard before his Church of Mercy, smiling in his own kindly, jolly way which somehow makes him seem Don Camillo himself.
We carry the news with us like a bomb. A Catholic prelate in Cuba is the first representative of any church, religion or sect ever to make such a clear pronouncement on the Cristina Jorgenson case. It remains to be seen what the reactions to his statements will be amongst the Catholic congregations, not only in Cuba but throughout the world.
How prophetic the closing paragraph in that 1953 artcle was.
Fast forward to January 2003.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After years of study, the Vatican's doctrinal congregation has sent church leaders a confidential document concluding that "sex-change" procedures do not change a person's gender in the eyes of the church.
Consequently, the document instructs bishops never to alter the sex listed in parish baptismal records and says Catholics who have undergone "sex-change" procedures are not eligible to marry, be ordained to the priesthood or enter religious life, according to a source familiar with the text.
That document mentioned was completed in 2000 and was credited to Jesuit Father Urbano Navarrete of Spain (far left in this photo with Pope John Paul II) who is a retired canon law professor at Rome's Gregorian University.
Father Navarrete wrote a 1997 article on transsexualism in an authoritative canon law journal and has been consulted by the doctrinal congregation on specific cases involving transsexualism and hermaphroditism. He was just elevated to cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI.
But one of the things not mentioned is that the Vatican was being advised by a 30 year enemy of the transgender community: Dr. Paul McHugh.
A man with a personal axe to grind against transgender people got himself named as an advisor to the Vatican. He has used that position to turn the Catholic Church into an intolerant bastion of transphobia, at least at the leadership level.
Yes, the same Dr. Paul McHugh who has much Hateraid for transgender people and takes credit for killing the Johns Hopkins Gender Clinic.
McHugh has ties to neoconservative Catholic groups, not surprisingly is a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, and is frequently quoted by anti-transgender groups such as NARTH and the Concerned Women for America. McHugh claims responsibility for helping get J. Michael Bailey's anti-transgender character assassination screed The Man Who Would Be Queen published through the National Academy of Sciences.
McHugh's still chomping Hater Tots after all these years. He had this to say in a 2004 article for the conservative Catholic publication First Things entitled Surgical Sex
"...The post-surgical subjects struck me as caricatures of women. They wore high heels, copious makeup, and flamboyant clothing; they spoke about how they found themselves able to give vent to their natural inclinations for peace, domesticity, and gentleness—but their large hands, prominent Adam’s apples, and thick facial features were incongruous (and would become more so as they aged)...."
During his time at Johns Hopkins from 1975-2001, after he assumed the chairmanship of the Psychiatry department from Dr. Joel Elkes, he assigned Dr. John Meyer to do a long-term follow-up study of 50 transsexuals who underwent SRS at Johns Hopkins. The 1977 Meyer Report claimed that SRS confers no objective advantage in terms of social rehabilitation for transsexuals. The paper was widely criticized at the time as flawed, but was used as the pretext by McHugh to close the Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic in October 1979.
Interestingly enough while he hates on transgender people, McHugh doesn't show the same level of vitriol toward child molesters. Check out this August 21, 2002 Washington Times report by Judith Reisman and Dennis Jarrard entitled Strange Bedfellows.
If you found the clergy sex abuse scandal shocking, prepare for another jolt: the Catholic bishops are getting their "expert" advice on pedophilia from people who have covered up or even defended sex between men and children.
The bishops recently chose Dr. Paul McHugh, former chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, as chief behavioral scientist for their new clergy sex crimes review board.
Yet Dr. McHugh once said Johns Hopkins' Sexual Disorders Clinic, which treats molesters, was justified in concealing multiple incidents of child rape and fondling to police, despite a state law requiring staffers to report them.
"We did what we thought was appropriate," said Dr. McHugh, then director of Hopkins' Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, which oversaw the sex clinic. He agreed with his subordinate, clinic head Fred Berlin, who broke the then-new child sexual abuse law on the grounds that it might keep child molesters from seeking treatment.
Fortunately, the Catholic rank and file members take issue with the idiocy and increasing anti-transgender intolerance at the top, which has only intensified since Benedict XVI became pope in April 2005.
Dignity USA, an organization of GLBT Catholics is fighting to stop the madness. Dignity chapters are located around the country and around the world where gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Catholics are welcomed for mass. It is not sanctioned by Rome or local Catholic bishops and masses are held in Episcopal churches and in other houses of worship.
When the anti-transgender statement was made public in 2003, Dignity issued a statement in which it took the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation to task for “trivializing the life-long struggles of our transgender and inter-sexed sisters and brothers in Christ.”
Marianne Duddy, who was president of Dignity USA from 1993-1997, wrote that "transgendered individuals have been a part of the Catholic Church faith communities for decades and that their spiritual, emotional and physical challenges are enormous — and humbling."
“There are profound truths about humanity and about God to be learned from their experience,” she wrote. “Transgender people need pastoral attention that is respectful and open, not judgmental and dismissive. The Vatican statement fails to take into account current medical, physiological, psychological and sociological findings.”
Despite the official negative church position on trans issues, there are individual church parishes around the United States and abroad that are more accepting, if not openly embracing of those who are transgender, gay, lesbian and bisexual. Some parishes fly below the radar of local church authority, meeting as house churches or small faith communities.
When asked in a 2006 Washington Blade interview about why GLBT peeps stay in the church, then Dignity Executive Diretor Debra Weill said, "For me as well as others in the LGBT community, we stay because our faith is rooted in the Catholic liturgy and faith traditions. It is not rooted in the ignorance of statements that come from the Vatican. It’s in what the Catholic Church teaches about loving one another and serving others.”
Dignity is in this battle for the long haul. At their Austin, TX convention they issued their response to a November 2006 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops document entitled Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care.
In the DignityUSA Letter on the Pastoral Care of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) People 2007 they sought to address some of the critical pastoral needs of the LGBT community. It gives voice to the concerns of Catholic LGBT persons regarding their role in the church; calls on the bishops of the United States to put an end to prejudice and discrimination against LGBT people in the church; and expresses the hope, expectation and just demand of LGBT Catholics to be full participants in their church, as is their right by baptism.
McHugh has ruined not only the lives of many transpeople in the United States, but is now setting up the conditions to spread his hatred through an institution that impacts people around the world. These negative policies will impact transgender people not only who are members of the Catholic Church but non-Catholics around the world as well. They are already being cited by governmental agencies to deny transgender people basic human rights.
McHugh and the conservacatholics who share his views would be wise to remember I Corinthians 15:10.
“By the grace of God I am what I am, and God's grace to me has not been without effect.”
Dignity USA and groups like it around the world are fighting to ensure that the Church lives up to its humanitarian principles. We can only hope and pray that the results of this battle will be a more positive religious climate.
We pray the misguided people in the Vatican will see the error of their ways and not only Catholics, but all faiths will open their doors and hearts to let us fully practice our spirituality in an open and accepting atmosphere that reflects our humanity.
But then again, if past history is any indicator, I may be waiting a while for that to happen. It took the Catholic Church 500 years to acknowledge the error of persecuting Galileo and Copernicus for daring to suggest the Earth revolves around the sun.